Anxiety in preschoolers

Kids of all ages have anxieties or worries of some kind. However, in most cases, anxiety in preschoolers is fairly transient and short-lived. Find out about some of the common causes of anxiety for preschoolers and ways you can help manage it.
Kids of all ages have anxieties or worries of some kind. However, in most cases, anxiety in preschoolers is fairly transient and short-lived.

Find out about some of the common causes of anxiety for preschoolers and ways you can help manage it.

Anxiety in preschoolers


What kind of anxiety do preschoolers experience?

  • Preschoolers are often anxious about insects, animals, separation from their parents or caregiver and sometimes become afraid of the dark
  • Preschoolers may show anxiety by being shy, reluctant to engage in social situations, and by being extremely quiet or tearful.
  • Anxiety may also be expressed as sleep disturbances and complaints of stomach aches, headaches and non-specific pain.

When is anxiety a problem?

In general, anxiety needs to be addressed if it is stopping your preschooler from doing the things they want/need to do, if it is seriously impacting the family’s functioning and if it compares poorly to that of other children of the same age.

Some signs indicating that your preschooler may not be coping too well include:
  • Frequently seeking reassurance or approval
  • Nausea, stomach aches or other vague pains, especially at specific times and occasions
  • Intense anxiety way in advance of planned social events
  • Excessive shyness
  • Perfectionism
  • Appearing worried or unusually quiet for extended periods
  • Overreaction to criticism
  • Reacting badly to routine changes
  • Sleep troubles

8 Ways to manage anxiety in preschoolers

1. Discussion
  • If your preschooler is old enough, encourage them to talk about their fears and anxiety. However, remember that you can’t demand that they tell you what’s on their mind.
  • Like adults, preschoolers will only share information when they’re feeling safe, supported and not judged.
  • With preschoolers it helps to initiate discussion while engaged in some other activity like playing with Lego, taking a walk, cleaning or baking.


2. Validate
  • Be sure to validate your preschooler's experience. Even if the fears sound silly to you, they are very real to them.
  • Let your preschooler know that you understand that they are frightened by repeating what they said back to them in your own words “It sounds like you feel very scared when Mummy drops you off at daycare because you worry she won’t come back to get you.”
3. Normalize
  • It is also helpful for preschoolers to know that everyone gets scared at times, even parents.
  • Talk to them about how you face your fears.
4. Provide coping strategies
  • Be sure to include some coping strategies in the discussion with your preschooler. This includes breathing and relaxation exercises.
  • Tell your preschooler to take slow deep breaths as if their tummy is a balloon and they are filling it up with air, or tell them to  “go floppy like a puppet with the strings cut lose so all your muscles are loose and relaxed”.
  • Another useful coping strategy is talking through their anxiety. For example, “It’s just a grasshopper. It can’t hurt me”.
5. Help them face their fear
  • Encourage your preschooler to face their fears gradually.
  • You may want to provide them with a lot of support initially, but you can reduce the support slowly.
  • For example, a preschooler who fears dogs may be exposed at first to pictures and videos about dogs, followed by small dogs behind a fence, on a firm leash and so on.
  • Make sure your preschooler can stay calm at each step before moving on to the next.
6. Praise positive efforts
  • Praise your preschooler for facing their fears.
  • For example, a socially anxious child may be applauded for saying hello to someone in the playground.
  • The experience of a success will make it more likely that they will be able to muster the courage to eventually invite another child at the playground to play.
7. Just do it
  • Sometimes kids simply have to do the things they are afraid of such as seeing a doctor or starting school.
  • At these times, do not allow them to avoid the situation as this can exacerbate the fear and prevent them from learning the truth of their feared situation.
  • For example, a preschooler who has never made a visit to the dentist would not get to learn that a visit to their family dentist is not such a bad experience. Parents are encouraged to prepare their children for what to expect and then focus on what they did well.
8. Seek professional help
  • If the fears and anxieties continue despite your best efforts, it may be helpful to consult a professional and seek their expert advice.

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This article was written by Kidz Therapy - a private practice providing comprehensive cognitive, educational, social and emotional assessments and therapy for children.
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